Pelosi Faces Off with Obama on CIA Oversight

The Time reports that, bucking a veto threat by Obama and overruling a deal among the White House, Republicans and two Democratic committee chairmen, Nancy Pelosi is pushing to dramatically expand congressional oversight of the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Pelosi wants the CIA and other intelligence agencies to inform all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees when they launch any covert action or other controversial program, not restricting that information to the chairmen and ranking opposition members and party leaders, or “Gang of Eight,” as required by current law.

She also wants the congressional intelligence committees to have the power to task the Government Accountability Office (GAO) with auditing any intelligence program, Democratic aides say, a power the GAO has for classified Pentagon programs but not for the intelligence agencies. “The Speaker has made it very clear that she wants disclosure for the full membership of the intelligence committees, not just the ranking members,” says Pelosi’s press secretary, Brendan Daly.

As the highest-ranking Democrat in the House in 2002, Pelosi was one of the eight members of Congress who were briefed on the Bush Administration’s “enhanced interrogation” methods. She has since claimed that the CIA did not disclose that it was using waterboarding. The CIA claims that it did brief Pelosi, and last year she charged that “the CIA was misleading the Congress” about the program and that “they mislead us all the time.”

When the House and Senate took up the fiscal year 2010 intelligence authorization bill in March this year, it contained the expanded notification and GAO provisions sought by Pelosi. The White House threatened to veto the bill. That exchange prompted three months of negotiation between the Democratic leaders of the intelligence committees, their Republican counterparts and the White House, resulting in a far-reaching compromise bill.

According to a statement released by Feinstein on Thursday afternoon, the committees’ compromise bill would require all intelligence agency heads to certify every year that they have notified Congress fully of all covert actions. It would require written confirmation of covert actions authorized by the President and memoranda of notification of those actions and justification for not briefing the full membership of the two intel committees. The compromise bill would also require intelligence agencies to explain the legal basis for their activities in writing to the committees, something the Bush and Obama administrations have resisted in part or whole.

But Democratic staffers say Pelosi will not move the bill to the floor unless it contains a provision doing away with the Gang of Eight notification procedure as well as one empowering the intelligence committees to authorize the GAO to audit intelligence programs.

Congress hasn’t passed an intelligence authorization bill in five years, in part because of the fight over disclosure. “If we’re not going to have an intelligence authorization bill,” says Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists,   “much of the committees’ reason for existence goes away: this is the primary vehicle for shaping intelligence policy, and without it the committees are insignificant.”

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